Police in Bangkok arrested a Chinese couple and seven Thai women after raiding 10 locations throughout the city and in nearby provinces on Thursday during a sting to bust a cross-border surrogacy racket that provided babies to people in China, officials said.
The operation, which involved 200 police officers, found seven pregnant women and a 22-day-old baby at one of the locations. The Chinese suspects, Ran Zhao, 37, and his wife, Su Yingting, 48, are suspected of hiring the women, police Maj. Gen. Torsak Sukvimol, deputy commissioner of the Central Investigation Bureau, told reporters.
“We have been tracking down this gang since May of last year. The target of today’s operation is a transnational criminal organization and this is a form of human trafficking,” Torsak told reporters.
Police pointed to travel restrictions as the reason they found the baby during their raids.
“[W]e believe the babies are left here because of the spread of the [novel] coronavirus. China has blocked travel to certain parts of the country,” police Col. Manachai Kleebsatabutr said.
Those arrested face charges linked to alleged involvement in transnational crime, conducting commercial surrogacy and advertising surrogacy services, officials said. Police requested warrants for 10 people, but one remains at large, according to officers.
After a series of scandals involving foreigners and surrogate mothers, Thailand in 2015 passed a law to ban surrogacy as part of a business or profit-making enterprise in the country.
Under that law, a surrogacy broker, if convicted, could face a prison term of up to five years and a fine of up to 100,000 baht (U.S. $3,210).
Assets seized on Thursday included vehicles, a house, and a company building valued at about 30 million baht ($963,000), according to Torsak, the deputy police commissioner.
Torsak said the gang had been operating in Thailand since 2012 and its agents offered women payments of between 400,000 and 600,000 baht (U.S. $12,850 and $19,275) to serve as surrogates for families in China.
The organization sent would-be surrogate mothers to reproduction clinics in neighboring Laos where they would be implanted with embryos. The women would return to Thailand for the duration of their pregnancies and be flown to China to give birth.
Thursday’s raids were based on a tip from a similar effort in January when police had found eight women who said they were hired to get pregnant in a province of Pathum Thani, just north of Bangkok, along with 15 babies in one house.
Torsak said at least 100 Thai women had been hired by the gang in recent years and at least 50 babies had left the country. Police said they expect to coordinate with their Chinese counterparts to locate those children.